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'In every class, there will be a child who secretly looks forward to seeing you'

You might feel like your class is a tough nut to crack – but you'd probably be surprised if they knew the identities of those students who actually have a deep admiration for what you're doing, writes one history teacher

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You might feel like your class is a tough nut to crack – but you'd probably be surprised if they knew the identities of those students who actually have a deep admiration for what you're doing, writes one history teacher

There will be a child in your class who will look forward to seeing you every day. And you'd probably be astonished if you knew who it was.

I learned this lesson in my NQT year.

“You’ll have to watch that Year 9 group!” I’d been warned by my head of department. And, indeed, they were a tough nut to crack. All too often questions such as “Are you new, sir?” or “Why are we doing this, sir?” or statements such as “This is boring, sir” rang around that classroom.

Within this melee, there was one student in particular – I’ll call him David for the purpose of this article – who literally made me dread each lesson with this class of 14-year-olds. Every time I asked him to do something, he’d huff and puff; sometimes he’d directly challenge me in front of the class; sometimes he’d swear at me and storm out. Most of the time, he just made it difficult for me to teach.

I gave everything I had to try to turn David around. I wasn’t the only teacher struggling with this student, but I certainly felt I was the one trying to tackle it the most and failing. My teacher training was my crutch; I tried to be fiercely consistent, to never lose my temper and to use the sanctions system that the school had in place.

Inevitably, I made some huge mistakes. I think I followed him out of the classroom and tried to persuade him to return once. I once had a proper go at him, which only made things worse. I didn’t know whether to go over to him in lessons and give him extra attention or whether to just do “the normal”. I just didn’t have the answers with this kid. I didn’t have an interest I could latch on to or a particular sense of humour I could tap into. It just seemed like a disaster.

But I kept going: I literally didn’t give an inch for 12 months. One particular day, I was extremely tired and I had been teaching this class last lesson. I drove home, parked the car on the drive and spent an age – what felt like an hour – desperately trying to work out what to do. This would seem crazy to me now, but back then every single lesson seemed to matter so, so much. I would scrutinise every interaction on any given day.

It will come as no surprise that I didn’t feel like David had learned much by the end of the year. When I counted the pink referral forms I’d issued at the end of my NQT year, his name came out top of the list. When I realised he hadn’t selected GCSE history, being honest, I breathed a sigh of relief.

'It meant the world to me'

But then, on the very last day of school, there was a knock on my classroom door. It was David. He walked straight in and before I could say a word, said: “Hi Mr Rogers. Just to let you know, I’m moving to a different school. I want to let you know I really respect you as a teacher and for not giving up.” And that was that. He turned and walked out. I never saw him again.

Of course, we’ve all had students say stuff like this over the years, and sometimes you never quite know if it’s a good thing or bad thing or what’s real and what’s not. But, in this case, I knew this was real with David and, as a result, it absolutely meant the world. As sad as that sounds, it really did. It mattered more to me than every single observation report and even more than passing my NQT year. It wasn’t an “over the top” gushing farewell, but for this lad to walk to my room to say that really meant something to me.

And that’s teaching. It’s not one of those DfE adverts in which it’s just banter, banter, banter every morning or in which everything seems to just “work” (although I must say international teaching is closest that I’ve got). Most days are just slogging it out.

There are no quick fixes with children and very few Hollywood endings. However, there are moments like this with a kid like David, when the reason you’re stood there, half-asleep on the last day of term, like a zombie, actually makes sense. It doesn’t happen that often, but it’s the moment when there does seem some method in the madness. 

Thomas Rogers is a teacher who runs rogershistory.com and tweets @RogersHistory

For more columns by Tom, view his back catalogue

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